Romania’s Constitutional Court rules Anti-graft chief must go

EPA / ROBERT GHEMENT

Just the start to restarting the DNA.


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Laura Kovesi, the head of Romania’s anti-corruption body, the Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) is today facing an uncertain future as the Constitutional Court ruled in favour of her dismissal from office. Accused of carrying out politically motivated investigations and exceeding her authority, Kovesi is seen by many as a biased figure-head claiming to fight corruption in Romania.

In February, the Justice Minister, Tudorel Toader, initiated proceedings to remove Kovesi from the DNA, accusing her of abuse of power. Yet her position seemed to be secure, following a Presidential Decree and veto by President Klaus Iohannis.

However, the Constitutional Court’s decision last week to over-rule the President, agreeing with the Justice Minister’s argument that his intervention had caused an ‘institutional conflict’ looks to restore that balance and force the President to dismiss Kovesi and confront the allegations and well-documented evidence against the DNA once and for all.

For many in Romania, it had been clear for some time that the DNA was colluding with the Intelligence Service. As chief prosecutor of the DNA,  Kövesi is believed to share responsibility for the politicisation of Romania’s justice system, which for too long has seen Romania slipping back towards the deep-state operations that characterised the old Securitate state.

The DNA, whose cause was noble and indeed, in many cases just, slipped into old routines – and became a tool for selectively redistributing power and wealth instead of carrying out its mission. The abuses of an institution which started out as a tool to correct injustices brought its head to disrepute.

Evidence broadcast on Romanian TV in February further tarnished the DNA’s credibility under Kovesi’s leadership. Undercover tapes whose authenticity is disputed by those in charge, reportedly show DNA prosecutors, two of which had been singled out by Kovesi for their success, falsifying and planting evidence, changing witness statements, forging recordings and blackmailing witnesses. With this information, the illusion of the DNA as a legitimate anti-corruption has surely all but evaporated.

The development also raises more questions about the European Arrest Warrant (EAW), a tool favoured by the DNA to pursue its targets abroad and this decision clearly demonstrates the problem of the EAW at its heart. The presumption that the same rigorous standards of judicial independence and due process that we take for granted in most of Europe exist across the Union and particularly in countries like Romania is incorrect. The Romanian justice system is not presently fit for purpose – and countries like the UK, France, Germany, Belgium, and others, should not have their own justice systems compromised as a result. A report by the Henry Jackson Society highlighted that the astonishingly high rate of anti-corruption convictions in Romania’s involved ‘routine violations’ of the country’s own constitution as well as the EU’s Charter on Fundamental Rights and the ECHR.

Such abuses as lengthy pre-trial detention, often in uninhabitable conditions, fabricated witness statements, planted evidence, falsified documentation and blackmail of suspects families have no place in the European Union, yet through the EAW, they are seeping through to countries like the UK and others.

Reform of the Romanian judicial system is long overdue, but, as the most recent EU monitoring report highlights, attempts to legislate are lacking.  Under Kovesi’s leadership, the DNA has seemingly reverted to be a politically motivated organisation.

Kovesi’s potential dismissal is the first step, but more work needs to be done. For a genuine new dawn for Romania’s fight against corruption, the DNA must be restructured, restoring the separation of powers and employing effective judicial oversight of its actions. Existing DNA cases must be independently investigated for their legitimacy and fairness, all allegations against Kovesi and the DNA should be examined and, if evidence is forthcoming, prosecutions should be started.

Last week’s decision is a sign that Romanian justice is moving in the right direction; an optimist would hope that the country can fully overcome its recent past and be a true example of Europe’s fight against corruption.

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